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What is Participant Worker Recruitment and Intake?

Recruitment and intake describes how a social enterprise markets its work, attracts new participant workers, gathers information from interested candidates, evaluates candidates for program enrollment and / or referral to partner organizations, and documents the process. 

Why is it important?

Having strong recruitment and intake enables employment social enterprises to:

  • Identify and select the right people for the job – social enterprises need strong, diverse recruitment channels to find participant workers from the focus populations they serve who are also a solid fit for the organization’s business and program model.
  • Enroll enough participant workers on a consistent basis, thus ensuring business continuity and the ability to deliver goods or services in a timely and high-quality manner. 
  • Build community relationships with partners to both receive referrals for the candidate pipeline and make referrals for candidates that may be a better fit for a partner organization.

 Best practices   

To guide your recruitment efforts, first determine the “right fit” for your social enterprise

  • Defining your social enterprise’s focus population is an important initial step. For example,  some organizations define their focus population as anyone with barriers to employment (such as all people experiencing poverty), while others focus on a particular focus population with specific barriers (such as veterans experiencing homelessness).
  • From there, determining the “level of readiness” necessary for participant workers seeking to join your social enterprise is critical grounding for your recruitment efforts. For example, your social enterprise may target recruitment for people who have not yet thought about getting a job, requiring more proactive and persuasive recruitment efforts. Alternatively, it may focus on individuals who know or think they would like a job and are in search of one, requiring more passive and informational recruitment efforts. In short, your recruitment approach should stem from the level of readiness of the candidates your organization is looking to serve. 
  • Next, determine whether your enterprise has a “wide” or “narrow” recruitment funnel. For example, social enterprises that hire anyone within their focus population at a specific level of readiness—a “screen-out” approach—can be thought of as having a wide funnel. A more narrow funnel might be based on identifying the set of barriers that the social enterprise is well-positioned to address and only selecting individuals who face those barriers—a “screen-in” approach.
  • Finally, having defined the above elements of your recruitment strategy, develop clear eligibility criteria to help evaluate whether a candidate is the right fit for your social enterprise.
  • Note that there is often a constant struggle between finding the right type of person for your social enterprise and finding enough people to keep your business going. Some enterprises are tempted to broaden their focus population to include “anyone” with barriers and any level of readiness. While this may alleviate short-term staffing needs, it can cause significant challenges to an effective program design.

Craft your messaging to potential participant workers and community partners, and start marketing early on

  • Particularly when there is a high-demand market for labor, it is essential to clearly articulate your social enterprise’s value throughout your messaging: from your marketing and outreach materials, all the way through into program onboarding.
  • Effective messaging should focus on the difference between a job and a career. Emphasize the supportive services you offer – to attract candidates and help them understand that your employee success program will help them long-term in their career development.
  • Include eligibility requirements in your marketing materials so candidates can make sure they qualify before applying.
  • Incorporate the above messaging and eligibility requirements into a participant worker job description that lays out key details (wage, schedule, location), responsibilities, expectations, and growth opportunities.
  • During the recruitment (or interview) stage, offer prospective candidates the opportunity to go through a job simulation, coming on-site to your social enterprise and joining alongside current participant workers to get a real sense of the day-to-day in your organization’s business and program. 

Build relationships with strong referral sources to build diverse recruitment channels

  • `Community partners
    • Developing relationships and new referral partnerships with organizations who serve your focus population can be an effective way to increase the reach of your recruiting efforts.
      • Regularly checking-in (at least bi-annually) with these partners to stay current on how their mission and program aligns with your own, as well as to have the latest contact information for relevant staff at the partner organization, is very valuable. 
    • There are a variety of potential partners that your social enterprise could work with, including:
      • Community-based organizations
      • Local Department of Corrections and parole / re-entry agencies
      • Schools
      • Local health system
      • Other social enterprises
    • Make sure that the staff at these partner organizations understand your social enterprise and the right candidates to refer. Tailoring your marketing materials for these partners can help ensure that ideal candidates are identified and referred to you.
      • Running a job simulation with referral partners is an excellent way to help partners understand what your social enterprise does, thereby allowing them to then paint an accurate picture to prospective participant workers (e.g., if you are a candle-making enterprise, bring your partner into your workshop and make candles with them as you would with participant workers, so that they get a feel for the day-to-day of the job and can refer candidates that would be best suited to that).
      • Hosting an appreciation luncheon for referral partners is another avenue to help manage partner relationships and make sure your social enterprise stays top of mind for partners.
    • You may also want to consider partnering with agencies who have similar operations to yours so that you can refer over candidates when they are not the right fit for your enterprise or when  you do not have enough openings. A smooth handoff between organizations will help applicants better access services and get the help that they seek.
  • Word-of-mouth referrals
    • Alumni of your program who can recommend your social enterprise to their network can be one of the strongest referral sources. They can demonstrate to potential candidates that your program has a positive impact and would be worth their time to join.
    • Promote word-of-mouth referrals from current or recently graduated participant workers, potentially via a cash / gift card bonus or other incentive.
    • Other ideas could include bringing program alumni in to talk with potential candidates or hiring alumni on staff in an outreach position.

Simplify your intake process to better meet participant worker needs 

  • Consider expediting participant worker intake and onboarding. For example, you could offer a one-day (or less) intake and orientation, allowing for same-day work. If applicable, your social enterprise could conduct background checks as the prospective participant workers sit in orientation.
  • Meet participant workers where they are:
    • You could investigate the potential for co-location with other organizations – such as Single Room Occupancy (SRO) building owners and community centers – to directly communicate with potential candidates.
    • Recruiting people where they are receiving other services can also be an effective way to associate your social enterprise with other supports. This, in turn, helps you articulate your value proposition beyond employment (as discussed above).
    • Another potentially effective strategy is the use of a mobile intake unit that meets potential new workers at community agencies for expedited paperwork and onboarding. This would take the place of conducting intake at headquarters, which can sometimes be hard to reach and cause attrition.
  • Consider your timing:
    • Some social enterprises operate with a cohort model, which can cause challenges when potential participant workers are looking for immediate work and may not be able to wait until the start of the next cohort.
    • If this is the case with your organization, you may want to consider rolling admissions instead of a single cohort start date per year – to catch more people looking for work when they need it. 
    • If the cohort model is integral to your programming model, perhaps consider staggering cohort start dates or opening half of the slots at once, which would be easier to fill than a full cohort.

Stay competitive

  • In times of low unemployment, you will be competing with other businesses for employees. High competing wages may reduce the attractiveness of employment opportunities at your social enterprise, so it is good practice to assess wage or other incentives (e.g., bonuses or gifts) offered by comparable entry-level employers in your region.
  • If you find that your enterprise is offering lower wages than your competitors, consider increasing the pay rate and/or hours offered, within reason, to demonstrate competitiveness compared to other job opportunities.

If you experience participant worker recruitment challenges, investigate the underlying root causes so you can identify solutions to address them.

  • Despite the ongoing need for employment social enterprises to offer jobs to people with barriers to employment, many organizations face challenges recruiting participant workers to work. Sometimes social enterprises are growing their businesses at a rate that outpaces their ability to recruit participant workers to complete the work.
  • There are many reasons why a social enterprise might struggle to recruit participant workers. It is critical to discover and address the root causes behind the struggle of finding the “right fit” participant workers.
    • Common causes of recruitment challenges include external factors, such as decreased unemployment, declining focus population, and high competing wages.
    • On the other hand, common internal root causes include ineffective communication, inconsistent programming, and insufficient referral partnerships.
  • Check out this article by REDF to learn more about common root causes of recruitment challenges and how to identify them within your social enterprise.